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Time Warner changes may cost consumers

 

Time Warner Cable isn’t saying much, but it appears that it plans to change the way some Western New York customers receive its cable service and that it eventually will cost more money each month.

According to an article Wednesday on Syracuse.com, next month TWC customers in the Hudson Valley will no longer be able to plug their cable line directly into their televisions and receive service without a set-top box or digital adapter.

“The cable company recently notified customers in the Hudson Valley that it will be going ‘all digital’ starting March 15,” the article said. “Time Warner said the move will free up system capacity so it can provide dramatically faster Internet speeds, but will also require customers to use a set-top box or adapter on all of their televisions.”

In response to an emailed question, a Time Warner spokesman wouldn’t directly answer whether the same thing is going to happen in Western New York households that have the cable service.

The great majority of the 393,000 homes that receive cable here subscribe to Time Warner.

Cryptically, the spokesman said: “We haven’t finalized plans for other regions in the state.”

The spokesman added that the digital adapters are free for at least a year, which certainly suggests Western New York will experience the same change that is occurring in the Hudson Valley.
Customers pay a monthly rental fee for the boxes, ranging from around $3 for the standard box to nearly $12 for boxes to receive the company’s digital packages. A recent New York Times article noted that the average cable customer pays $231 annually for the boxes.

But the boxes have been optional for lesser packages. Customers can still receive about 70 channels by plugging the cable directly into the TV, but that option appears to be on the way out for Time Warner customers.

Time Warner is far from alone in making this change; other regional cable companies across the country have begun forcing customers to get one of the devices.

The change comes at a time of uncertainty for the cable television industry, which is fighting off competition from a host of streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu, and is trying to hold onto customers who have decided to “cut the cord” with cable.

Nationwide, nearly all cable customers must now get their set-top boxes from their cable companies. The Federal Communications Commission estimates that prices for the devices rose 185 percent over 20 years, even as prices for smartphones and other electronics plunged. Tech companies such as Apple and Amazon make devices that connect to televisions and have new interfaces, but they provide streaming Internet video and do not replace the cable box.

Currently, 99 percent of cable and satellite users lease one or more boxes from their providers. Last month, the FCC announced a proposal that could shake up the set-top box landscape by allowing cable and satellite subscribers to pick the devices they use to watch programming. The move could allow companies like Google, Amazon and Apple to expand their footprints in the media industry with devices that would blend Internet and cable programming in a way the television industry has resisted.

“It’s time to unlock the set-top box market – let’s let innovators create, and then let consumers choose,” Tom Wheeler, chairman of the FCC, wrote of the proposal on the technology news site Recode, according to the New York Times.

The FCC said the agency’s five commissioners would vote on the proposal Feb. 18.

The New York Times contributed to this report.

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